When a pack of three chicken breasts often sells in the store for $6.00 and up, buying a whole chicken is much more cost effective. At stores in my area, I can usually buy a whole chicken for $5.00 or less. But buying a whole chicken won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to get the most out of it! For my family of four, I can stretch a whole chicken to three meals or more. It’s all about knowing what to do with chicken leftovers!
How to Cook a Whole Chicken
There are two main ways that I typically prepare a whole chicken. Regardless of which way you choose, remove your chicken from the packaging, pull out the paper packet of giblets, and rinse the chicken, cavity and all, with cool water. Then, depending on your schedule and preference, you can prepare your chicken in a crockpot or roast it in the oven.
How to Cook a Chicken in a Crockpot
Cooking your chicken in the crockpot makes for a simple dinner on a weeknight, or just an anytime meal that you don’t have to fuss over. After you’ve rinsed your chicken sprinkle a teaspoon of salt in the cavity and set your chicken in the crockpot. Then, seasoning with your favorite spices. I normally use salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder and onion powder, since that produces a nice, flavorful chicken that lends itself well to many types of leftovers. Set your crockpot on low and let cook for 8 hours.
If I’m making chicken on a work night, I prepare and season my chicken the night before, so all I have to do is turn on the crockpot in the morning before work.
How to Oven Roast a Chicken
I normally use this method of preparation on a fall or winter Sunday, when the football game is on and I’m not worried about warming up the kitchen. Prepare as above for the crockpot directions (rinse and season), and put your chicken in a roasting pan or casserole dish. Roast the bird for 45-60 minutes at 325 degrees, or until you can insert a knife into the joint between the thigh and the body of the chicken and the juices run clear. After you take the roasting pan out of the oven, let it rest for 10 minutes, covered loosely with a sheet of foil.
This method is easy to fancy up for company by stuffing sprigs of tarragon and a sliced lemon in the body cavity, or rubbing with melted butter, sea salt and freshly-snipped herbs before roasting. Be careful not to cook the chicken too long, or you’ll end up with dry, tasteless meat.
How to Use Chicken Leftovers
Chicken is an economical and versatile meat, and it doesn’t take culinary wizardry to create delicious leftover chicken meals, just a little creativity and a list of good chicken leftover recipes. There are two tricks to making leftover chicken recipes that your family will enjoy: use your freezer (to avoid complaints of, “We just had chicken yesterday!”) and make your chicken leftovers in a completely different way than you did when you originally served it.
If I make an oven-roasted chicken, or crockpot chicken, I usually don’t serve leftovers the night after. Once dinner is done, I strip all of the meat from the bones and portion it out into freezer bags, depending on how much is left, and freeze the meat. When you’re ready to have another chicken meal, use your chicken in one of the following recipes. Most of these recipes are readily available at recipe websites like Allrecipes.com, or feel free to request any of them from me in the Comments section.
White Chicken Chili
This is one of my family’s favorites. Use your homemade chicken stock (recipe below) to make this rich, flavorful, navy bean-based chili, and top it with shredded Monterey and sour cream before serving. Great for chilly fall nights.
This recipe is one of my own creations. It’s like chicken noodle soup, but with a thicker, stew-like consistency that serves well over mashed potatoes. Comfort food at it’s finest.
Chicken Shepherd’s Pie
You can use homemade chicken stock to make the gravy for this recipe, for an even more made-from-scratch flavor. To save time on and serve as a weeknight meal, plan this shepherd’s pie for a Monday and make extra carrots and gravy with Sunday’s dinner to save and toss in, as well as extra mashed potatoes to top it with.
Chicken Pot Pie
Pretty similar to Shepherd’s Pie, chicken pot pie is topped with a biscuit crust instead of mashed potatoes. Don’t let that scare you – you can use prepackaged biscuit dough, or whip your own up in about 5 minutes.
Chicken Salad for Lunch or Dinner
Set your family up with a couple days’ worth of lunches by turning your leftover chicken into chicken salad. Spread it on sliced ciabatta bread and serve with a spinach salad or pasta to dress this chicken salad up for a summer weeknight dinner.
How to Make Homemade Chicken Stock
After you’ve eaten your chicken and saved your leftovers for future meals, you may think the next step is to throw away the bones. But that would be such a waste, when homemade chicken stock is ridiculously easy to make, lower in sodium than the canned version, and absolutely delicious! Plus, making your own chicken stock ensures that you’re getting every last penny’s worth from your purchase.
Simply take the chicken bones after you’ve stripped the meat from them and put them in a crockpot. Roughly chop up some onion, celery, and carrots and add to the bones. (If you’d like to impress your family, tell them that you just made what the French call mirepoix.) Season with little more salt and cracked black pepper, fill the crockpot the rest of the way with water, and set to simmer on low all night.
The following day, strain the broth through a cheesecloth-lined strainer and set in the fridge to cool. When the stock is cold, the fat will be congealed and floating at the top, and can easily be skimmed off. Then, you can either use the stock to cook with immediately, stick it in the fridge for a few days, or freeze it until you’re ready for another chicken meal.